10 Cleaning Myths and What to Do Instead

Cleaning pros dust off the truth about questionable claims

Cleaning products Photo: iStock

It’s time to trash some of those housecleaning remedies that have been passed down for generations—yet produce iffy results or, worse, create more work. Consumer Reports asked some cleaning-industry experts about the effectiveness of 10 timeworn tips, and here’s what they said.

Around the House

Myth: Newspaper works the best for cleaning glass.
Wet newspaper tears easily, and the ink can transfer to window trim, leaving more to clean. “We use microfiber cloths to clean glass,” says Debra Johnson, home cleaning expert for Merry Maids, a national franchise. “They’re the best at cleaning without streaking.”

Myth: Vinegar cleans everything.
“Vinegar is an acid, so it can cut through dirt and can kill bacteria, but only if you use it at full or nearly full strength,” says Derek Christian, owner of My Maid Service, a home-cleaning service in Ohio and Texas. “Most people put a capful in a bucket of water, and that doesn’t do much.” The acids in vinegar can damage natural stone and wood surfaces.

Myth: Feather dusters are more effective than microfiber cloths at dusting.
Fact: Genuine ostrich-feather dusters do attract dust, but they’re expensive and are generally not as effective as lambswool or microfiber options. “Most feather dusters just spread the dust around,” says Debrah Vanchura, cleaning pro and owner of Helping Hands in Portland, Ore. Also, they tend to drop feathers—leaving you more to pick up.

Shop microfiber cloths: Amazon, Target, Walmart

More on Cleaning

Myth: Cleaning solutions act instantly.
Nope. “At Merry Maids we recommend allowing any cleaning solution to sit on the surface for 2 to 3 minutes,” Johnson says. “Always follow the directions on the product’s label. Some solutions, like disinfectants, need a full 10 minutes to truly kill bacteria,” Christian says.

Myth: String mops are best for removing dirt and bacteria.
Industrial-style string mops may look impressive, but studies have shown that microfiber mops are about 20 percent more effective at removing dirt and bacteria, Christian says. “String mops are very absorbent, so they’re great at cleaning up big spills,” he says, “but if you want to make sure you’re not leaving anything behind on the floor, use a microfiber mop.”

Shop microfiber mops: Amazon, Target, Walmart


Myth: Coca-Cola can tidy up toilets.
Fact: Coke sure isn’t “it” when it comes to cleaning your toilet bowl: “Coke is acidic, so it could be effective at removing hard-water stains,” Johnson says. “But even the Coca-Cola website recommends using other options.” Christian prefers traditional cleansers as well. “The soda could actually darken stains, and the sugar could encourage bacteria,” Christian says.

Myth: Bleach cleans everything.
“Bleach actually doesn’t ‘clean’ anything—because it doesn’t remove soil,” Christian says. “It can lighten stains, making things look cleaner, and it kills bacteria, so it’s better as a sanitizer than as a cleaner.”


Myth: Handwashing dishes is better than using a dishwasher.
If your dishwasher is a decade old, this may be true, but today’s models beat handwashing by a mile. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star website, using a dishwasher that bears the Energy Star label can save some 5,000 gallons of water, more than $40 dollars in energy costs, and 230 hours in personal time over the course of a year vs. handwashing. And because dishwashers heat the water to 140° F, they’ll sanitize the dishes, too.

Myth: Coffee freshens garbage disposers.
“Coffee grounds may act as a mild abrasive, removing gunk from disposer blades,” Christian says. “But baking soda is a better choice. It’s also mildly abrasive, and because it’s a base, it will counteract all the smelly acids that we put down the drain.”


Myth: Hair spray removes ballpoint-pen ink.

Fact: This may have been true years ago, when hair sprays were formulated with more alcohol (which does remove ink) than they are today, but not anymore. “Today’s hair sprays are full of stiffeners and hardeners that will just make the stain worse,” Christian says. “Just use rubbing alcohol. It’s far less expensive than hairspray and doesn’t include any extra ingredients.”

Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from Consumer Reports’ “How to Clean (Practically) Anything.”

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